Sunday, December 30, 2007

Abbandonate ogni speranza....

Today I have been working on my Obituary. This is not as morbid as it sounds, given that the alternative was to scrub the kitchen floor, do the laundry and bring the guest room back from chaos. Also, it being Christmas, I have been ruminating on the past. I haven't got far with the obit, just a few well-turned strophes here and there which will slot in nicely when the rest gets sorted.

"...during the North African Campaign, he made a substantial contribution to the victory at El Alamein by thumping a lad called Lehmann who lived down Leegomery and was clearly a Nazi agent with a name like that."

"....Mountbatten acknowledged his contribution to the orderly handover of power from the British Crown to India in 1947, especially his willingness to give up pappadums."

"....Anthony Eden valued his moral support during the Suez Crisis in 56, deriving great comfort from his telegram: "Listen, Tone baby, it's only a fucking canal!"

"...he is credited with inspiring Gorbachev to embrace Perestroika and Glasnost', believing them to be two racehorses, racing certainties to win the Cesarewich and the Eurovision Song Contest respectively."

",,,in 1988, was elected a Companion of the Institute of Chemical Engineers in recognition of his services to oenology, etc."

A real laugh, that last one, and, amazingly, true. Well, there's more, but as it is merely a draft, I won't bother you with it right now, although I think it will fit nice and kentucky with my last will and testament in due corpse. Damned if I can think of a pithy epitaph for my headstone, though, Spike Milligan having stolen the best one ever.

Friday, December 28, 2007


I know what you're thinking.
You are thinking: why is the Old Scrote wearing a yarmulka?
It's mostly because of Stephen Fry and Nigella Lawson. They are two people who intrigue me: Stephen Fry, because the bastard knows EVERYTHING, and Nigella Lawson, because I cannot believe how she gets poured into her dresses.
They were both on a programme recently called "Who do you think you are?" in which they traced their family histories, and in both cases they came upon the fate of their Jewish ancestors in the Holocaust. It was a mind-altering moment for them. And for me.
So, thinking that Jesus, being Jewish, wouldn't mind if I skipped the Bethlehem Manger Thing this year, I decided to celebrate Chanuka instead. This has not been easy for me, because celebrating the victory of the Jewish Maccabees over their Syrian despots (167 BC), seminal as it was, as recorded in the Apocrypha, did not exactly cause the lead to throb in my pencil.
Never mind, I thought, a serving of filafel and a yarmulka on me Prince Charles spot, is at least a gesture. And the sight of Nigella Lawson leaning buxomly over a bain marie (BBC2, most evenings this week) has definitely done the trick, bleistiftsweise.
Shana tova!

Not a good moment

It wasn't a good moment. I was railing against a number of things that had annoyed me. When I say "rail", I mean, curse, imprecate, damn and calumniate, not to mention waving of the arms.

You don't want to know the cause of my rage, but it was, mostly, a combination of failed garbage disposal, successful dog poo and agonising leg cramp. Anyway, I was waxing exceeding wrath. Believe me, my wrath had rarely been waxier.

And then I thought (out loud): "My god, I am going mad!" No, it wasn't a good moment, because of the implication that I was no longer in control. I would end up like those old boys you see in parks muttering to themselves, drooling spittle on to their cardigans, fiddling with twigs, bumping into things, forgetting to do up their buttons, well, you get the picture.
And then I had an even worse thought:
people would look at me and not notice any difference.
I need to get out of the Fens while there's still time.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Tis the season to be got over

We wish you a Merry Christmas!
We wish you a Merry Christmas!

We wish you a Merry Christmas!
- And we wish it wasn't raining.

Still and all, what would December 25 be without Christmas? It would be the day before December 26 (I don't know who organises these things so brilliantly, but it sure as hell isn't the current British administration).

But I am not complaining. I had a wonderful evening last evening sharing supper and good humoured sodality with my wonderful neighbours, and a wonderful surprise this morning when I opened my present from them: a Johnson Bug Cage, which I can appreciate is unlikely to float YOUR boat as much as it floats mine.
I have also had lovely phonechats with people who matter a lot to me, starting with the Kiwis. Grandma is bursting with pride, the new arrival is still unnamed, Joseph is articulate and happy, and Matthew, bless him, chattered away incomprehensibly in a New Zealand accent. Various ex girlfriends also called, still unable to believe that they ever saw anything in me. And I am about to phone Sarah and the Californian munchkins, once I have finished this quite unnecessary piece.
And now, my darlings, I am in an expansive postprandial mood, gently eructating after a most satisfying Christmas lunch of two corned beef sandwiches with festive sprigs of holly stuck in them: food with built-in toothpicks.
The news, as far as I have been able to glean it from various sources, is that the Archbishop of Canterbury is against greed, HM the Queen is in favour of looking after the unfortunate (I can't wait for my food parcel from the Palace), Jodie Foster has finally come out as a lesbian (Funny expression that: I mean, other actresses don't have to come out as straight, or am I missing something?), and Gordon Brown has choked on a sprout.
OK, the last is not true. And the reason I mention Jodie Foster is that I just watched a snatch, if you will pardon the expression, of Bugsy Malone. Goodness, she was a heartbreaker even then.
Oh yes, and I used the catapult to remove a squirrel from my nuts. Not that I succeeded, but I thought you might want to know that I am never one to take adversity lying down, well, not until I have finished this bottle of Hardy's Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon, special offer at £3.85, hurry while stocks last. God bless Charlie Tesco.

And now, I want to wish you a true, honest and real Merry Christmas, or Hannukah, or whatever guides your spirit, and a New Year full of healthy invertebrates, luscious vegetation, mega-broods of short-tailed field voles and a bumper Barn Owl season. Plus whatever else you think you might need to make 2008 the best year yet.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Sic transtit....

Well, we delivered the dead common buzzard to Tony T at CEH. He palped it knowledgeably and made two brief announcements: [1] it is a young bird [2] it it so far gone that its gonads will have withered. There's such a thing as too much information....
Anyway, we trolled round the Nature Reserve and found lots of Marsh Tits (pictured above), plus a smattering of other species that we don't find much or at all in the parish of Haddenham: Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Coal Tit.
But no Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. Apparently there is only one left in the whole wood, poor lonely sod.
So, onwards and upwards. All'assalto, i miei prodi! Tomorrow I am nestbox-making. It's wonderful to think that all those years of education and training, costing the taxpayer zillions of pounds, have led to this moment: driving nails into pieces of marine ply.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Love it!

Monk's Wood

Tomorrow I accompany my colleague PM to deliver a dead common buzzard to the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology at Monk's Wood, about a 40-minute drive from here. By the way, the buzzard is not a buzzard which is "dead common"; it is a common buzzard which is dead. Just thought I ought to clarify that point.
Monk's Wood also has a nature reserve (see picture above), so we will undoubtedly take a stroll round it in order to fail to hear or see some really tasty woodland species like Marsh Tit, Nuthatch and Treecreeper. And, if we try REALLY hard, we should also fail to hear or see Lesser-spotted Woodpecker. You know me, I love a day out exploring the wonders of Nature.
CEH Monk's Wood does a fantastic job researching important aspects of wildlife in Britain. Guess what: the Government are shutting it down as part of a cost-saving drive. Personally, I think we would be better off shutting the Government down.

Welney Visit

NB: click on the hyperlinks to see the birds.
So, yes, I went to the Welney Wildfowl Reserve. The main building has been refurbished. No, it's been rebuilt. It's Dudesville now. I preferred the old slum, but never mind, over the bridge and down to the hide, and the birds were still spectacular.
Lots of hungry Whooper Swans - who wouldn't be hungry after a thirteen-hour flight across the North Atlantic from their breeding grounds in Iceland?
Lots of handsome male Pochards. Female Pochard mostly winter in southern Spain. Nobody knows why the sexes split up this way. I reject out of hand the theory that the females zoom on down to the Iberian peninsula because they don't know how to read a map.
As a bonus, there was a female Smew, known as a Redhead for reasons I will leave you to guess. In fact, it was identified by the person next to me as a "female Smoo". I love the fen dialect. My previous cleaning lady once congratulated me on my "boo'iful noo compoo'er".
Oh yes, and there was what looked to me like a Pacific Black Duck. Do you think it might be an escape from a collection? It has given me an idea. Seeing that a lot of British bird species are in decline, I am going to start a NEW LIST, consisting ONLY of birds that have escaped from collections. I might start with the Red-breasted Goose (illustrated above) on a pond in the Godmanchester Nature Reserve, which is very near here. There's also a Tesco's Hypermarket on the way back, so that will make a real day out for a shopaholic like me.

Cor blimey, look at the wheels on that!

Today I am determined to use my time wisely. There's over 2000 Whooper Swans and over 1500 Bewick's Swans on the fens at the moment, and they all come into the wildfowl refuge at Welney to roost. They get a feed beforehand, which you can watch from the comfort of a centrally-heated hide (blind) with a vast picture window. It's a real spectacle, and almost better than a tractor with enormous wheels.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Old Scrote's Last Will and Testament

Being of as sound a mind as I have ever been of, I wish to make a public declaration of my last will and testament, not that I know the difference between a will and a testament.

But first, I wish to review the achievements of my life.
Erm. Right, that's done.
No, hold, stout yeoman, before I proceed, I think a brief resume of my astonishing sex life would be valuable for the instruction of posterity. Erm. Right, that's done too.
My father's will was as simple as it gets: "To my wife, Mabel, I leave all I possess." That's the kind of will that really pisses the lawyers off.
Mine is similar, but with more fancy legal jargon full of archaic heretofores and hereinafters. It just says: split everything between my two children, and if they predecease me, equally to their children, and if THEY predecease me, give it all to MacMillan Nurses.
I know a lot of you will be disappointed that I am not leaving anything to you, but I have made a provision of a tidy sum of money to be devoted to a post-interment party, with an instruction that you do not mourn my death, but celebrate my life. As I will not be there, except in spirit, I have already started celebrating. Now, where's the corkscrew?
Oh yes, and don't hold your breath. I intend to live long enough to claw back all the money I paid in taxes over the years. And long enough for the Prudential Pension Company to take out a contract on me: "That bastard Allsop REFUSES to die! Terminate him with extreme prejudice!"

What's in a name?

According to a reliable Californian source, the new Kiwi Allsop remains happy and well-fed but unnamed. I still think a Biblical name to follow Joseph and Matthew is best: such names never go out of fashion. David, Peter, Simon, etc, though Luke might be a bridge too far.
What baffles me is how people can possibly give their wee babies, all pink and wrapped in swaddling clothes like the Baby Jesus, names like "Clint" or "Hank".I never yet saw a baby that looked like a Clint or a Hank, though, once they is all growed up and strap on them sixshooters, pardner, them monikers is the dog's bolludicocks (Spits into cuspidor).
Far be me from it to give advice to the Auckland Allsops, but I do think it's important to choose a first name that harmonises with the surname. A name ending in a consonant acts as a buffer, eg, David Allsop as distinct from Henry Allsop, which comes out as Henry'Yallsop.
When I was in Primary School, the monitor, in the absence of the teacher, was instructed to write up the initials of boys who misbehaved. At that time, I was known as Jackie Allsop. The result was that, nine times out of ten, I was scribed as either JY, which meant that Jimmy Yale got the cane; or JH, in which case John Heinemann got the cane. Me, I just stayed VERY quiet.
Maybe a clumsy elision isn't such a bad thing after all.

Mrs T waves to the Zulus.

Mrs Trellis, taking time off from making bara brith mince pies, adds her bit to the Christmas spirit.

Dear President Mbeki, she writes, I SO enjoyed your piece about sardines, though I think you would be better advised to eat them rather than bury them - I believe they are crammed with Omaha 3, which is very good for AIDS, etc, not that you believe in AIDS, I know, and quite right too, it only affects nancies, etc, not persons of your statuary, or Mrs Mbeki.
Mr Trellis, my late husband of beloved memorial, used to refer to himself as an ichthyophile, though luckily he was never caught actually doing it. He did, however, once win first prize in an Unusual Pet Competition with a tin of sardines, bless him.
May I be the first to wish you a very Happy Black Christmas, with lots of zulus in your Christmas stocking. And don't worry about your successor: whoever you choose, he's bound to cock it up look you, if you will pardon my Welsh.

You didn't you get my card? Weird.

It's impossible to write a satirical, or even a sardonic, piece about the custom of sending Christmas cards. It is beyond satire. I have tried everything. Sending to everybody I know, however slightly; sending no Christmas cards at all; sending cards only to those who send cards to me.
It's useless. You never get it right, no matter how hard you try. The only person who, in my opinion, got it nearly right, was my late and lovely friend, Chic Goode, who sent out one single card with a list of names and addresses and a request to forward it. And we all DID forward it! The last recipient used to get his Christmas greetings around Easter time. But that takes cojones.
All the above, because I have just finished doing my Christmas cards. No, hell, of course I haven't finished. There'll be some more dropping through the letterbox from people that I didn't send a card to, and there'll still be time to get one in the post....
Anyway, if you didn't get a card from me, it means it got lost in the post. Honest. Merry Bleedin' Christmas.

The sardine again

Since writing the previous piece, I have discovered that Goya did a painting of the sardine burial ceremony, and here it is. I leave you to spot the wee fishie.
No matter. When it comes to Goya, I prefer to contemplate the paired paintings, Maja vestida and Maja desnuda, which caused me many years back to stagger sobbing from the Prado. I am over it now, folks, but I still cannot think about those paintings without remembering how much in love he must have been with the beautiful Duchess.
Ah me! Love! I think I remember love too.

Burying the sardine, olé!

I continue to make my way through the book about Spanish customs (Fiestas y Costumbres Españolas) published in 1929, and a cracking read it is too (usually at the rate of a page and a half per sitting, as you might say).
But this morning, the cracking read finally cracked me up while I was reading about Carnaval, the three days of insanity before the start of Lent. What loosened my grip on reality was a section headed El Entierro de la Sardina. I was so doubtful that it could really mean (the ceremony of) the Burial of the Sardine that I actually checked the dictionary to see if "sardina" had any other meaning. But no, sardina means sardine, and there really was a ceremony during the Tuesday of Carnaval which involved men dressing up as priests and friars and ritually burying a sardine. I leave you to decide what symbolism is involved here, but I deeply suspect that it is sexual.
What I can say is that John Cleese and the other members of the Monty Python team must have read this book too. It's inspirational.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Proud Grandma

The new Kiwi arrival getting a cuddle from his cuddly Grandma.

The Kiwi Boys

Joseph on the left looking down at his new brother, Matthew on the right, looking at the camera. In the middle, the new arrival, asleep and oblivious.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Stop Press

Grandchild number six has now arrived. 7.5 pounds. Mother and child fine. Home birth, two Kiwi sages femmes in attendance (three, if you count Grandma), and labour no more than three hours.
It's a boy. No name yet. I wish they would name him after me, but I can't see them calling him Scrote, can you? I think Simon or Peter would be a good name - after Joseph and Matthew - a sort of apostolic succession.
Photos will be posted asap. Now, if you will excuse me, I need to rest awhile: childbirth always takes it out of me.

The Coolidge Effect

(With acknowldgements to Colin Wilson)

President and Mrs Coolidge visited a successful chicken farm. They took separate routes round the facility. Mrs Coolidge was impressed by the unit's productivity.
"How do you account for it?" she asked.
"We have an amazing cockerel that can do his duty fifty and more times a day," they replied.
"Tell the President that," she said.
Later, President Coolidge arrived at the same spot and was impressed by the unit's productivity.
"How do you account for it?" he asked.
"We have an amazing cockerel that can do his duty fifty and more times a day," they replied. "Your wife particularly asked us to tell you that."
"Always with the same hen?"
"No, Mr President, a different hen every time."
"Tell Mrs Coolidge that," he said.

The above fills me with a deep sense of something or other.

The Old Scrote's Funny Finger

I had a consultation today at Hinchinbrooke Hospital with Mr Southgate, the orthopaedic surgeon who did the operation for Duypitren's Contracture on my right hand some years back. After discussing the pros and cons of operating right away on my left hand, and especially bearing in mind the increased risks attendant on the fact that I have a pacemaker, we agreed to a further review in six months' time, with the proviso that if the degeneration accelerates - which is very possible - we will bring forward the date for an operation.
So, assuming the condition doesn't get more rapidly worse, my next visit to the hospital will be on 5 June. I pointed out to the Appointments Secretary that 5 June was my birthday, and she, sweet lady, said, "Oh, shall I make it for 6 June then?"
"Nah," says the Old Scrote, "Let's make it the fifth and I'll bring a cake."
And, you know me, that is exactly what I will do.

Every visit to hospital reminds me of an incontrovertible fact: even the fattest, least shapely legs look good in black stockings. That's one of many reasons why all men love nurses.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

December days

This is the time of year when we devote our days to repairing old Barn Owl nestboxes, making and erecting new ones (and occasionally providing advice to farmers and landowners on how to keep - or attract - their Barn Owls).
So, these are days of saws, drills and screwdrivers. Doesn't sound very appetising, does it? But there are compensations, not just the here-to-horizon vistas and skyscapes provided by the fens, and not just the wonderful sight of an occasional Barn Owl slipping silently out of a barn and arcing across the fields to another roost site. Today, for example, the compensations included fields with up to 2000 Whooper Swans feeding on potatoes and other scraps, wisps of Golden Plover tripping across the sky, a male Merlin trying momentarily to look like a Kestrel before turning to reveal its true identity.....
It's not a bad way to spend a December day!

Monday, December 03, 2007

Cane Toad

In the nineteen-thirties, this beast would have been in Hitler's SS. It is poisonous, ruthless and seemingly unstoppable. Introduced into Queensland, Australia, from South America as a biological control (beetles in the sugar plantations). it is spreading fast and wiping out native fauna as it goes. Bugger, there are some scary things going on in the world.
Time I looked for some more pics of buxom ladies on tractors.

Let's call the whole thing off

A 77-year-old former traffic policeman who for ten years had cared for his Alzheimer's-stricken wife, walked into the hospital where she was being treated and shot her three times.
Vitangelo Bini then sat down at the foot of her bed to call the police. When they arrived, he told them: "I couldn't stand to see her suffer any more."
Poor old sod. They will probably throw him in the chokey.
But, for goodness' sake, isn't it about time we grasped the nettle on this issue? Listen, my beloveds, when I get to the stage of dribbling spittle, gabbling incoherently, wetting myself and no longer knowing which way my arse is facing, turn off the oxygen, ok?


Today, surfing my television for something to accompany my mid-morning coffee other than Lorraine Kelly's cleavage, I came upon an item that puzzled me. And then: a flash of insight! Suddenly, in an eureka moment without benefit of bathwater, I KNEW who had invented the Lawn Mower!
It wasn't Flymo or Hayter, much less Honda or Stihl. No, it's a Peruvian piece of ingenuity, invented by a long-gone people called the Nazca. Everyone has sought an explanation for the Nazca lines (see photos). To me, it's very clear: they wanted stripes in their lawns. Also, because of the lack of hedges, would-be topiarists were reduced to etching figures of plants and animals in the sward.
Listen, it may seem unlikely, but I think it's more plausible than all that van Daniken crap.

Oh no, not another scare!

The front page of today's Times newspaper carried a really scary article about wicked hacker websites that are offering people's bank and credit card details, free at first and then for a fee. Everything: name of accounts, pin numbers, names and addresses, the lot. Even the police are saying they have never known anything as serious as this.
What to do? I already have firewalls, an anti-nasties program, I am hyper cautious about opening any email that isn't from someone I know, and I NEVER open files with extensions like .exe, .dat, .pif, or even .zip or .mim if it isn't from a source I know and trust. And, of course, I am now an avid shredder of personal documents.
So, all I could think of was to change my passwords and pin numbers.
Among my least attractive scenarios is the day when the World Wide Web crashes. Talk about a dependency issue.....

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Trellis does it again

The following letter from North Wales confirms that my faithful correspondent is still all over the ball:

Dear Mr Mandela,
she writes, what a comprehensive man you are! Is there nothing you cannot turn your hand to? One minute you are destroying apartheid, the next minute you are saving mice from incinerification!
By the way, forgive my indescription, but is Mandela your real name or did you adopt it from our Social Security Building in Bangor, Mandela House?

About cagebirds: I advise you to have nothing to do with them. Apart from reminding you of your long years of incastration on Robbin Island, it will do your reputation no good to be seen stuffing wild birds into cages, well, except for your Winnie, who ought to be locked up and the key thrown away, forgive me, but I don't like women who indulge in hankypanky while their husbands are banged up.
If you are ever in North Wales, do visit me and I will prepare you a mealie mealie feast that will put the colour back in your cheeks, begging your pardon, no offence meant.
Yours, Blodwen Trellis, Mrs, Widow, Unabashed.

Wee sleekit c.t.beastie, part 2

Ilyah Mohammed, Dell's answer to Terry Bin Wogan, has sent me the wrong kind of mouse, so now my cup runneth over. No, it bloody boileth over. Why does nothing ever go in a straight line?
As it happens, I have repaired the original, she has, bless her, risen phoenix-like from the ashes, with nothing worse than a scorched bum and a slight odour of burnt plastic.
But over there, in Dublin or Sligo or Mumbai sits Ilyah O'Mohammed, unaware of my chagrin. What to do? I wonder if the Archbishop of Canterbury is up to a fatwa?

My dad's birds

On my left, a Zebra Finch; on my right, a Java Sparrow. Just in case you weren't sure what they look like.

Who's a pretty bird?!

My father Dug for Victory, as required by HM Government during the 39-45 spat with the Axis. As well as digging and planting up every inch of fertile soil around the house, front and back, he built two enormous greenhouses. Well, they seemed enormous to me as I was no more than two feet high at the time.
Much later, as the memory of beating the fascists faded and the disillusion with Attlee's lack of socialism grew, my father converted his two greenhouses into aviaries. In the larger one, he bred Budgerigars; in the smaller, Java Sparrows and Zebra Finches.
By this time, I had grown to six feet and had moreorless left home, so I had little to do with the aviaries, although I can remember being impressed by the range of colours of the budgies - red, yellow, green, blue and even magenta - and by the fecundity of the Java Sparrows and Zebra Finches, which were into an awesome repopulation programme.
"A bird imprisoned in a cage, puts all of Heaven in a rage", the poet said, and I am always saddened by the spectacle of caged birds in street markets in everywhere from Bangkok to Barcelona. But, at the same time, I have a niggling thought that it might be fun to have an aviary in my back garden.
I only know of one birder who is also a cagebird enthusiast. I wonder how many more there are?

With friends like these.............

Fundamentalists of whatever religion share one interesting characteristic: they are all fucking ugly. I feel sorry for God, and cannot believe He wants to spend Eternity with these jerkoffs cluttering up his Palace and moaning about the lack of facilities, or whatever.

A teddy bear called [YOU fill in the blank!]

In a technical college where I once worked (no details, I am anxious to avoid a fatwa), we had a one-year contract to train young men from a certain Arab state. In coffee and lunch breaks, these Arab lads filled the canteen, leaving no seats for any other students. Apparently - or perhaps I should say, allegedly - the other students found a solution: one of them would put his head round the door of the canteen and shout:
"Mohammed! Telephone!"
And two thirds of the seated students would make a rush for the corridor where the phone was situated. Fortunately, not one of them was a teddy bear.

Saturday, December 01, 2007


Honda have gone into production* with a car, the Hydrogen Honda FSX, that runs on hydrogen, extracted from water by an electrical process that I don't understand, but deeply admire.
The FSX does about 82 miles to the gallon for about half the cost of petrol/gasoline, ie, no fossil fuel pollution, and runs for 270 miles between fill-ups, not that there are many places where you can fill up with hydrogen, except, it seems, in California. But Honda are proposing to solve that problem by establishing the fill-up infrastructure themselves, based around the idea that individual homes could have their own hydrogen facility for all their power needs, not just for their cars.
There is one question that is bothering me, though. Given that here is a wonderful opportunity to reduce pollution, and an even more wonderful opportunity to break the oily Arabs' (and others') grip on our goolies , why are our governments not shouting about the hydrogen car from the rooftops? Why aren't they investing megabucks to get out of fossil fuels and into hydrogen? After all, we aren't short of water, at least not where I live. They keep nagging me about lagging my legs and recycling my used banknotes, so why shouldn't I start nagging them about taking hydrogen cars seriously?
Go on. Say it. You've heard it all before. It's water under the bridge. That's even worse than the pun that heads this posting.

*A production run of only a 100, but it's a start

Friday, November 30, 2007

Words of wisdom from Mrs T

Mrs Trellis gets to the heart of the nail on the head:
Dear Nick Griffin
, she writes, the way you have treated your cleaning lady is nothing short of scandalous, and I am not surprised she tried to push you out of a moving car. I think you are being very unreasonable, not because you are Chairperson of the British National Party and want to repatriate all darkies, but because you blame all your misfortunes on others. In my opinion this is no basis for a serious political party, though it seems to have served the Labour Party quite well.
Take the advice of an older woman who knows about these things: get a hair cut, get a proper job, and forget about darkies, ghosties, chars and all the other tattybogles that ruin your sleep.

Goodbye, Mrs Mopp

I yield to no man in my admiration of women. I am in awe of them. I love their geography. I love their impenetrable minds. I love their bits. I love everything about them.
But I had to let my cleaning lady go.
Sorry, but in the end, she intimidated me beyond measure. A fine woman, junoesque of stature, hair pulled back tightly on a noble head, a bosom to shipwreck on, and a fierce way with broom and duster. What more could an old scrote on bachelor status ask for? Well, for a start, he could ask for her to put things back where they were before she broomed and dusted them.
Two features characterised our relationship. I was so dominated by her, bless her, that I used to clean the house before she arrived to do me. Secondly, after she had done me, I spent a good hour putting things back where I wanted them, as distinct from where she thought they ought to go.
Listen men (ladies might wish to leave at this point), she was worth every penny I paid her. My house positively glowed after her weekly visit. And she had an arse on her that any man could live off for a week. But why oh why could she never put the candlesticks back the way I had them, side by side on the diagonal at one end of the mantelshelf, but instead separated, one at each end, like lovers who had quarreled? Why did my African ornaments get reshuffled, so that the married Makonde couple were split up, the old man looking up the orifice of a gazelle, and the old woman staring at the bosom of an Angolan maiden, instead of looking at each other and wondering maybe one last time?
And now? The house is a pigsty. Dust and cobwebs filling every corner: it's like Dirty Dick's. The spiders and the harvestmen have had free rein: everything is now connected by gossamer to everything else. There are crustacean graveyards of woodlice everywhere. Even the dust has dust. Miss Haversham would feel right at home.
But at least my African figurines and my candlesticks are happy. Even if their owner is having second thoughts...

Truth really IS stranger than fiction sometimes

Only once in my life has anyone tried to kill me. Literally. Method: pushing me from a fastmoving car. Motive: revenge arising from jealousy. Outcome: I lived.
The man I was working for at the time, let's call him G, took me off to Deauville for the weekend, where we were to stay with a woman I had already met in Paris, and who I assumed was G's ladyfriend. She had two daughters, aged, I guessed, about 17 and 12. After our meal at the lady's house, she stayed home while G and I took the two girls for a walk along the beach. I then made a different assumption, namely, that G was interested in the 17 year old, so being a good gooseberry, I occupied myself with the youngster, leaving G free to chat up the older one.
When we got back, there was a blazing row between mother and G, in such rapid screeching French that I could barely make out the cause. Anyway, G stormed back to his car, I following on, and he set off, driving crazily, back to Paris. It was late by now, a scary time. Then he started to rant at me, leant across, opened the passenger door and tried to push me out.
You are ahead of me as usual. Yes, it turned out that I had thwarted him because he was in fact interested in the 12 year old. I was only 21 at the time, and unaware that some grown men (G was pushing 40) lusted after little girls. Anyway, he finally realised that I had acted innocently, and calmed down. We stopped at a relais on the way back for a coffee, and sat watching a film crew shooting a scene on location, a street scene at night with actors playing out their fictions. It seemed fitting somehow.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Where the hell has it got to?

I have a poltergeist. No doubt about it. I have put off this realisation for as long as I could, but now I KNOW it to be so. It has brought to mind the first line of the following piece of scatology, memorised devotedly from a long-ago Bedürfnisanstalt (What a great expression for a loo):

"In this house there lives a ghost..."
In diesem Hause wohnt ein Geist,
der, diesem der zu lange scheisst,

mal kräftig in die Nille beisst.

Mich, aber, hat er nicht gebissen –

Ich hab’ ihm auf dem Kopf geschissen.

Nothing else can explain the constant disappearance of things: my kitchen timer, a valued CD-Rom, a small medicine chest, books galore, the list goes on. Also, whole chunks of my memory have vanished - definitely the work of a malign spirit.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Beef burgers, Texan style

Mrs Trellis has her finger to the grindstone, as usual.
Dear Mr Bush,
she writes, I never thought I could admire a man who is named after a lady's private parts, but you have really impressed me lately, specially the way you have tried to engineer kiss-and-make-up between What's-his-name the Palestinian and What's-his-name, the Israeli, and specially because you must know your efforts are doomed to failure.
These people, believe me, are only happy when they are killing each other, so what you ought to do - forgive a poor little Welsh woman for giving advice to a man of your staturation - is arrange a duel, and whichever blows the other's brains out gets to rule the whole region.
After all, it's mainly about what kind of hat you wear when you speak to God, something which has never been a problem for us Primitive Methodists, though I have to say that Bronwen Parry's Sunday bonnets were an affront, not that I wanted to kill her for that.
By the way, if you and Laura ever visit North Wales, do call in and I will cauterise a couple of beef burgers, Texan style, just for you.

Winged chariot

But at my back I always hear
Time's winged chariot hurrying near

Funny what comes into your mind when your knees start crackling.

There WAS a time....

When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself, and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man's art, and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts my self almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate;
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

La Trellis and the gift of tongues

Dear Mr Sarkozy, she writes, I can't tell you how much I admire your gift of tongues, but I suppose that sort of thing comes naturally to you, you being a foreigner to start with. I myself was bisexual from an early age, using Welsh at home and in chapel, and English for baser purposes. My late husband, Mr Trellis, was something of a polygon too, having learned various foreign songs from his dad. One I remember vividly was something about Inky Pinky Parlez Vous. I had no idea what the words meant, but each verse ended with a loud guffaw and a hard slap on my bum. He was such a happy man at those moments, bless him, not that he ever commensurated his passion, for reasons too indelicate to go into. I imagine your lingual abilities bring similar pleasures to your lady wife.
Enough from me. I know you are busy ruling France, which must be difficult. They seem to be such an unruly lot, forever ruining air travel and storming the bastille. Maybe if you spoke to them in Hungarian, it would distract their attention long enough for you to send in the riot police. Just a suggestion.
Yours accordingly, Mrs BlodwenTrellis, widow, unsullied.

Winter moths

Oh yes, and before I leave you, let me tell you the outcome of the mothtrapping session last night. In the spanking new Robinson trap, one moth; in Clare's actinic, two moths. And they were all the same species: Winter Moth. It is a drab creature, tiny and inert, a moth so nondescript and boring that it would not be out of place in Gordon Brown's Cabinet. I honestly thought that two of them were dead till I watched them utter a flutter as they took refuge from the daylight (I am referring, of course, to the moths, not to GB's cabinet colleagues).

Goodbye Hungary, hello Spain

Hungarian has had it, man That is an impetigo of a language, with enough diacritics to make a Spotted Dick. They have double acute accents (Ő, ő and ű, Ű) for goodness' sake, an overindulgence if ever I saw one. So, apart from telling you - without diacritics - that Szabo ur es Szabone - Mr and Mrs Tailor - are on the train, I will wish the Magyar tongue an insincere Viszontlatasra (au revoir) and move on.
And move on is what I have done, taking down from my bookshelf a manky old book called Fiestas y Costumbres Españolas, in the Heath's Modern Language Series, published in 1929.
1929! That even pre-dates Paco, and describes a Spain of dueñas and serenos and the rest that has surely gone forever. This book has been in my possession many a long year, in fact, since about 1950, when I nicked it from a second-hand bookstall in Wellington Market. Like these Spanish fiestas and customs, Wellington Market has long disappeared, but it was a nick worth the risk.
Of course, I couldn't read it then, although a couple of years later, I had plunged into the EUP "Teach Yourself Spanish" by Norman Scarlyn Wilson and was then emboldened to read El Sombrero de Tres Picos without understanding much. My later involvement with Barcelona (Los idiomas se aprenden entre las sabanas) did wonders for my Spanish and so Fiestas y Costumbres Españolas is now my morning companion. It's either that or prunes.

A mouse's tale

This morning, the dear thing started to get hot under my hand, and then stopped working. I opened her up and found that one of the batteries was so hot I couldn't touch it, and that, when I finally prised it out, part of its casing remained stuck to the mouse's insides. My mouse, the wee sleekit cow'ring timorous beastie, still works after a fashion, the fashion being that I have to bang her firmly on her mousemat every so often. The every so often is getting oftener, so I phoned to order a replacement from Michael O'Dell's splendid company. The Irishman who dealt with me is called Ilyah Mohammed, a name, you will agree, that is not immediately redolent of the land of the leprechauns, although he was definitely full of blarney, begorrah.

Unheroic Couplet

Der Zeiten gedenk’ ich als die Glieder gelenkig ,
Bis auf eins.
Die Zeit ist vorüber, steif sind die Glieder,
Bis auf eins.

Funny what comes into your mind when your knees start crackling.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Open you wallet, and say after me: "Help yourself"

Do you know what I like about the Inland Revenue (American friends, think IRS)? That's right, there is nothing I like about the Inland Revenue.
Let me be clear. I have no problem about paying my taxes, whatever they may later be spent on. I have a simple philosophy, namely, that if Her Majesty needs a few bobs of my money, She is welcome to them, bless Her.
No, what I don't like about the Inland Revenue is their requirement that I should be perfect, without blemish or failing. Bugger! In no other sphere of our lives are we expected to be 100% accurate, but the IR, if you make even the smallest mistake or miscalculation, will distrain your property, seize your assets, and, for all I know, order in a plague of locusts and a murrain on your cattle.
As you may have gathered, I am putting together that glorious annual work of fiction known as My Tax Return. I promise you, I don't cheat, I don't try to come the old soldier with the myrmidons of the Tax Office.
But I know that I am fallible, which is why, in the midst and maelstrom of this exercise, I wonder seriously if I should jack it all in and just take the money and run.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Mrs T sets her cap at Mr Astaire

Mrs T, as always, is approximate:
Dear Mr Astaire
, she writes, what a tragedy that your knees are going just when you were beginning to build up a reasonable dancing career. I can understand what a blow it must be to you, seeing that you can't act for toffee.
Also, I didn't realise until now that you were Hungarian, though it probably accounts for your lovely legs, what with all that Hun horsemanship, killing Slavs and so on. I often wonder what it must be like to grip a huge horse between one's thighs....
Anyway, I don't wish to protrude on your privates, but I really would like to know what it was like to dance with Ginger Rogers. She seemed such a skinny thing, not a bit like the plump Welsh girls you could have got your hands on if only you and I had been in touch sooner.
Don't make it so long next time.

Knees up Mother Brown? Well, I would if I could...

This evening, I had a serious talk with my knees. As mechanical objects go, they have given seventy-one years of uncomplaining service, without a drop of oil or WD40 to keep them on the grind. But now, bless them, they are definitely crying out for assistance.
How do I know this? Well, apart from occasional buckling and crackling noises, I have noticed that everyone now walks faster than I do, even Tesco trolley-jockeys, who must rate among the slowest moving humans on earth, if you discount the people in the IR who pay out tax refunds.
The former Mrs Allsop, bless her, advised me "Whatever you do, avoid surgery." This from a Senior Nursing Sister! What does that say about current orthopaedic practice?!
Anyway, my beloveds, please don't panic. I have a theory that, just as "an apple a day keeps the doctor away", my daily intake of red wine is keeping the zing in my knees. At the rate I am putting it away, I don't think I will need to consider surgery much before 2020, by which time I and my knees both could well be beyond caring.

Colloquial Hungarian

I don't wish to be indelicate, but if you are to make sense of what follows, you need to know that I make use of serious reading material in the mornings when I obey my mother's instructions to keep myself "regular", if you catch my drift.
Years back, so far back that I can scarcely remember the reason, a buxom girl called Joely, whose father got out of Hungary in 1956 just before the Russian tanks rolled back in, lent me her copy of Colloquial Hungarian by Arthur H Whitney, publ Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, 1944. I still have it, and it is currently on sennapod duty in the throne room.
The reason I am telling you about this book is because it is the worst DIY language book I have ever dipped into . It is so bad it is appealing, in the way that William Mcgonagall, poet and tragedian of Dundee, wrote poetry that fascinates by its sheer awfulness:
Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silv'ry Tay!
Alas! I am very sorry to say
That ninety lives have been taken away
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,

Which will be remember'd for a very long time.

I will not quote from Whitney beyond giving you a sample of his "Small Change" section of useful phrases, such as: "He has no equal", "I was quite done in" and - my favourite - "The whole thing's ruined".
You can say that again.

But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?

I will tell you, soft, what light through yonder window breaks: it's bloody Allsop with his bloody mothtraps again.
Yes, mes potes, despite all the arguments to the contrary, I have fired up the new Robinson in my garden, and Clare the old Actinic in hers. We are after the December Moth, Poecilocampa populi, and anything else that blunders in.
What I can also tell you is that the moth is so called from the Greek, poikilos = varied, and kampe = larva, the larva being, it seems, well, varied; and from the Latin populus = poplar, the larva's foodplant.
What I cannot tell you is why this moth chooses to strut its stuff in December, when the cold, I would have thought, would play havoc with its wedding kit.
Nature's a mystery, and that's a fact.

Competition time

I hope you like this picture of a girl on a tractor holding up two bunches of giant maraschino cherries. I think I have come up with a snappy title for it, namely, "Girl on a Tractor Holding up Two Bunches of Giant Maraschino Cherries".
If you think you can do better, be my guest.

Stariy bit

It means "the old way of life". They're not writing tractors like this one any more. Or women like this one. Does anyone know the Russian for "we should be grateful for small mercies"?

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Play that thing!

I have mislaid a CD-Rom which I am anxious to lend to my friend D. Having failed to find it in all the obvious places - you know, breadbin, freezer, knicker drawer - I riffled through my CD collection, which I hadn't looked at in ages. And it was then I rediscovered my appalling musical tastes: wall-to-wall jazz, with a smattering of baroque, classical guitar, seasoned with some humorous stuff (Lehrer, Jake Thackray, Bob Newhart), and one mindblasting compilation of the Grateful Dead. Dated, or what?!
Anyway, among this heap of detritus of my yesteryear, I selected a Dixieland group called - no, of course, you have never heard of it - Roy Pellett and his Dixieland Band. I regularly used to visit the Casa Bar in the Niederdorfstrasse in Zurich to listen to them when I was living there, 1974-75. Dixie is SO outrageously life-affirming. If you don't tap your foot, get to the nearest psychotherapist without delay. Assuming, of course, that you are not already dead.
Who said nostalgia isn't what it used to be?

Welcoming the Russian visitor

It is heartening to know that Mrs Trellis never misses a trick.
Dear Gordon Brown, she writes, I know you have your problems, dear, but with your wrecked face, it's not surprising. Do try to cheer up! After all you are a socialist, aren't you?
Anyway, thank you for alerting me to the Siberian in our midst. We get so few foreigners in LlanfairPG (apart from the English) that it will be a change to host a Russian with snow on its boots, etc. Do you know what it eats?
Also, I hope it will make friends with my budgerigar, Myfanwy. Fortunately she only swears in Welsh (having spent too long with my late husband in his workshop, where he tried but failed at many a DIY project, bless him. Even hammers were machines beyond his capability).
Now, listen to the advice of an older woman: ignore your critics and carry on with governing, or whatever it is you people do before you retire on enormous pensions, etc. It's not your fault you have less charisma than a stick insect, you just have to make the best of the gifts that the Good Lord gave you, few as they may be in your case.

Little brown jobs

LBJ's are the delight or the curse of birding, depending on your taste. Among the most devilish are the pipits, a whole series of stripy brown sparrow-sized birds that, depending on your point of view, are an identification challenge or a pain in the aspidistra.
At the moment, I am totally alone in East Anglia, everyone else having dashed to Wales to see a vagrant pipit called a Pechora Pipit, which breeds in Siberia and should be somewhere in SE Asia by now, but isn't. The picture above eloquently reveals the plumage features which separate it from the other pipits. Well, it does, doesn't it? Right.
We have four pipit species: Meadow, by far the commonest; Tree, a summer visitor; Rock, a coastal species; and Water, about which I know little, except when you flush it, it flies high and only comes back to land after several kilometres. After that, there are several vagrants: Richard's, which has a liking for Witcham; Tawny; and Red-throated, which I have seen in Turkey.
But I am happy not to have gone to Wales in pursuit of the Siberian, because, this frosty morning, I had a new bird feeding below my plum tree: a Brambling, which is a winter visitor, cousin to our Chaffinch. Be honest: when it comes to sexy, my Brambling beats that Siberian interloper hands down.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


There is a well-known condition that afflicts many fen folk in the winter. It is known as fen-itis, and, I imagine, pre-dates SAD (seasonal affective disorder) by several centuries. The cure is called Spring, but you have to wait a while for that.
So, the nights draw in, it's dark by four o'clock on overcast days, which the days mostly are at this time of year, and all the fun outdoor activities are put away in the shed.
Clare is desperate for us to try out the new Robinson trap. I am tempted, mainly because we might catch an interesting moth called, appropriately, December Moth, but it's a matter of waiting for a night with no wind, no rain and no frost. All the same, I am quite keen to see this little beastie (picture above), not only because it's pretty, but because it has a sexy scientific name: Poecilocampa populi.
But you gotta have the right night...
Damn, it's bad cess is fen-itis. Time to open a bottle of the discounted Rioja, pour a glass and go online to see if there are any nice tractors on Google Images.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Another happy tractor!

Yesterday, I went to Monk's Wood with David H and three barn owl corpses. We had a blog round the nature reserve and managed to see a few woodland species that are infrequent in our fenlandscape: coal tit, marsh tit, goldcrest, treecreeper, nuthatch. DH also heard - but I didn't - siskin, redpoll and lesser spotted woodpecker. This has nothing to do with tractors.

Saturday, November 17, 2007


I'm sorry, but it IS Saturday evening, and I am alone and feeling frisky. I hope you will forgive me if I post something that excites me beyond measure. So, call me a dirty old man, but at least I am upfront about it. Isn't this just the prettiest tractor? I am up for a ride any time, and make no mistake, I still know how to double-declutch....

Ding bleeding dong

Oh yes, and I went up into a belfry, that of Holy Trinity Church, Haddenham to be precise, in order to check if swifts had used our nestboxes. For the seventh year in succession, the answer is no, they haven't.
I have a theory as to why the boxes have not been successful, but it is so boring that I won't even bother you with it.
Just let me say that checking empty boxes in a belfry at the exact moment when the bells ring the quarter must be the equivalent of an interrogation session at Guantanamo Bay. DING DONG DING DONG Aieeeeeeeeeeeeee! What was that you said?

It's that time of year.

Yesterday I went to Hindolveston to buy a Robinson Trap, which is to mothtraps what the BMW is to motoring, only without the arrogance. It is a superior trap, expensive, but wotthehell, Archy, mostly because it retains its catch, whereas other traps fail to hold more than a portion (Moths, especially geometers, are Great Escapers). Of course, there's no point in setting the BMW trap until maybe next March, but I needed to reassure myself that my SKI plan (spending the kids' inheritance) was still on track.
Today, I knocked up two Barn Owl nestboxes, with assistance from my best mate, Clare, whose speciality now is telling me I am doing it wrong. That's ok, it makes her feel good that she can bully an adult, and it is good for me to be reminded of my imperfections. Anyway, how was I to know that half the screws would miss the battens? Maybe if I had measured more carefully.....
Tomorrow, weather permitting, I am going to practise lethargy. Thank god there are still some things I can do well.

Time for a bit o' slubbin'?

Have you ever slubbed a dyke? It's all right, this is not about doing shameful things to ladies in sensible shoes, it's about cleaning out a ditch, the expression slubbing dykes being Fen talk for that activity.
Because of some quaint survival from the Middle Ages, it turns out that I own* not only my back garden and the hedge at the bottom of it, but also the ditch on the far side of the hedge (which separates me from the farmer's field beyond). Given that the same is true of all the homeowners upstream and downstream of me, it is a little difficult to seriously exploit ownership of what is probably 3% of the total ditch, especially - and it grieves me to say this - there is no Grand Unified Policy about how we should all manage our individual bits.
So, after mature rioja-induced reflection, I decided not to slub out my dyke, though I did tidy its banks and verges. What stopped me, to be honest, was not just the lack of a communal policy, and not even my natural tendency to withdraw in the face of serious physical effort, but the fact that as I squelched my wellie-booted way along my bit of dyke the other day, I disturbed all kinds of interesting wildlife, not least frogs and froglets. I want to leave them in peace to wallow there.
So the answer is: no, no dykeslubbing for me. Mind you, it's a helluva concept: I wonder how it would go down in Old Compton Street?

*For our overseas readers: in fact, according to ancient law, all land belongs to the Crown, down as far as you can dig, but we subjects have unfettered use and enjoyment of it. So, I could dig up my land and take it to Australia, say, but it would still belong to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, God bless Her.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Welcome, stranger!

Exotic birds are kept in zoo-like collections. Sometimes they escape, and mostly they don't survive. But a few do survive and thrive and build up wild breeding populations. Of course they are still foreigners, "shouldn't be here" birds, at least many birders are puritanically dismissive about them. But not me. I think some of our feral birds are gorgeous and I actively seek them out. Today, thanks to Hawkeye Hopkins, we were able to enjoy the spectacle of twenty of them grazing so close to the roadside that we could almost touch them. If you want to know why Alopochen aegyptiacus - literally the "Egyptian fox-goose" - is so called, just look at its amazing face. And when it flies, it shows two ginormous white wing patches. Damn, it's a beauty! I wish we had more of them in our countryside, and yah boo sucks to the puritans.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

When it comes to money-making, I'm your man

I think you have already gathered that I came from a poor working-class background, not quite urban proletariat enough to provide the sort of cachet that D H Lawrence, for instance, had, but poor enough for me to realise that if I wanted something, I had to get it through my own efforts.
You don't know "The Pocket Guide to British Birds" by R S R Fitter and R A Richardson, published by Collins in 1952, do you?
Neither did I, until a schoolfellow called Douglas Walker brought it into school and introduced me to it and to the emotion of homicidal envy. All I had had to that date was a little book, published by a Christian organisation, with very few pictures and a message that we should all love birds because they belong to Jesus (that may not have been their exact message - I am no theologian - but it was to that effect).
Filled with lust, I decided I had to have a copy of the Fitter and Richardson. So, I added an evening paper round to my morning paper round and eventually had enough to go into W H Smith's to buy a copy (I would have shoplifted one, but they always seemed to make a point of watching me whenever I went into their shop, probably because the arse was usually out of my trousers). I still have the copy I bought all those years ago, as witness the addresses I scribbled in the front:
51 High Street, Hadley, Nr Wellington, Salop
followed by
St John's College, Oxford
followed by
53 Byerley Street, Seacombe, Wallasey, Cheshire
followed by
77 Howeth Road, Bournemouth, BH10 5DZ
I then bought other field guides, leaving the Fitter and Richardson to become an historical document.

My other lust in that epoch was to learn German, and the book I lusted after was "Teach Yourself German" in the Teach Yourself series published by The English Universities Press Ltd (Their motto: "Give instruction to a wise man... and he will be yet wiser" Proverbs 9.9). That one I acquired from the proceeds of some persistent carol singing on the new council estate at the top of Manse Road during the cold nights of late November, early December. Imagine a lone 14-year-old pushing approximate versions of "While Shepherds Watched their Flocks by Night" through a crackling voicebox struggling between pubescent soprano and pubertal tenor, a shivering lad driven by the desire to decline and conjugate nach deutsher Art. God bless the good folk of the Manse Road Estate for making that possible, even if they only gave me their sixpences to get rid of me.

And I taught myself German - after a fashion - from that book, sufficient to pass O Level German three years later, despite a lot of help from a teacher called "Titch" Hanby, who probably knew the language quite well before he decided to give up being sober.

Adolescence brought its own imperatives - I am sure I don't need to specify them, but they were all money-consuming - so I took jobs during the school holidays: the Post Office at Christmas, and, in summer, the Brewery where my father worked. In fact, I received my A Level results while I was being fondled by one of the girls at the "pop factory on the top road" (The Wrekin Brewery Bottling Plant on the Holyhead Road to be precise), thereby confusing my academic and sexual ambitions, a confusion from which I never fully recovered.

Then, it all got easier when I was awarded a County Scholarship to cover my expenses at university. But it didn't really cover them, mainly because I was so enthusiastic about girls and boozing. So, to pay my Battels, I worked at Hall's Brewery in Oxford during vacations, first in the bottling plant, and later as a drayman's mate delivering to pubs in the town and in the surrounding towns and villages. You should have seen me manoeuvring pins, firkins, kilderkins and barrels off the back of the dray, down into the cellar and up on to the stills. Poetry in motion, it was, balletic even.

So, when it came to money-making, I was no slouch. One day, when I grow up, I might see about getting a proper job.

PS Somewhere in the picture above sits Cynthia Brown, but I can no longer recall which is she. I just hope she has forgiven my impulsive lunge all those years ago. It was all part of my self-improving Teach Yourself phase....